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  • A decisive road win over Stanford has Utah laying two touchdowns at home against Arizona this week, but the Wildcats have made some strides of their own since their 0-2 start to the season.
By Zachary Cohen
October 09, 2018

Arizona at Utah (-14)

Fri. 10/12, 10:00 p.m. ET

Three things you need to know before betting on Arizona-Utah:

1. After embarrassing performances against BYU and Houston to start the season, Arizona has started to right the ship in recent weeks. The Wildcats have won and covered in three of their past four games, with the one loss being a 24-20 game that they could have won outright against USC as a 3.5-point home underdog. Arizona had chances to take the lead late, but some miserable play calling ended up doing the team in. But with the Wildcats having come on strong, it’s a bit odd to see them getting two touchdowns against a mercurial Utah team. The Utes were impressive in a 40-21 road victory over Stanford last week, but appear to be getting overvalued a bit here. Arizona has historically played well in Utah, where the Wildcats are 3-2 straight up and 4-1 against the spread since 2000. The Utes are also a lousy 2-6 straight up and 1-7 against the spread when coming off a win by 10 points or more as an underdog under current head coach Kyle Whittingham. And they’re 0-5 against the spread when that win was by 14 or more.

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2. Utah’s rushing defense ranks third in the nation, as the Utes are giving up only 2.0 yards per carry and 75.4 yards per game on the ground. That will make things hard on Arizona, which could struggle to create short-yardage situations for star quarterback Khalil Tate. But the good news for Arizona is that the Utes won’t be able to plan against Tate’s ability to improvise. The junior has been dealing with some nagging ankle issues this season, but he has regained some of his mobility in recent weeks. Over the past two games, Tate has found a way to rush for 78 yards. That isn’t a mind-blowing number, but he should continue to improve as the weeks go by. And it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he is able to break a big run against Utah on Friday.

Through the air, the Utes are a lot more beatable. They aren’t awful, but Utah’s passing defense ranks 46th in the nation—which isn’t nearly as intimidating as where the unit ranks against the run. While Tate isn’t the type of quarterback to pick opponents apart with his arm, he is capable of making some nice throws, and that’s especially true once he leaves the pocket. He should be able to help the Wildcats stay close.

3. The strength of Utah’s offense is the running game, where RB Zack Moss has been a revelation this season. In the Utes’ win over Stanford, Moss rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns on only 20 carries. It was his third 100-yard game of the season. Meanwhile, quarterback Tyler Huntley is also capable of making plays with his legs. But while Arizona’s rushing defense is ranked 113th in the nation, it should be noted that this team has taken some major steps forward in that area over the past few weeks. While you can’t completely ignore the Wildcats’ losses to BYU and Houston to start the year, Arizona has allowed 704 rushing yards over the past four weeks. That’s 176.0 rushing yards per game, which would be the 86th-best mark in the nation if that were what Arizona was allowing all season. That’s nothing to brag about, but the Wildcats are simply better than they were early on. There’s also the fact that the Wildcats are allowing just 18.3 points per game in conference play. So while Moss and Huntley should be able to find some success in this game, it shouldn’t be expected that they’re going to run all over Arizona.

Pick: Arizona (+14)

Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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